What's the Big Deal about Sogut?

Trip Start Feb 08, 2008
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Trip End Sep 11, 2009


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Flag of Turkey  , Bilecik Province,
Tuesday, September 16, 2008

People often ask me what I am doing in Turkey. All I can say is, "I read history of Anatolia." I travel around and visit sites of historical significance. And in Anatolia there are a lot of them in a history covering many more than 10,000 years.

So, as recorded in an earlier blog, I ventured out one day to the town of Söğüt, probably something in excess of 50 miles to the east of Bursa. At that time the fellow with whom I had hitchhiked told me of an upcoming festival. For a second visit, this time at the time of the festival, honoring Ertuğrul, father of the first Ottoman sultan, Osman, I was taken by a couple of Bursa residents, Z. and her husband N. I had become acquainted with Z. early in my stay in Bursa when she answered my appeal for help in locating a house to rent. I posted that notice on a travelers' social network to which we both belong.

Friday, September 14 was to be the first day of a three-day festival, this year I understand somewhat circumscribed by the festival coinciding with the religious holiday of Ramazan. I had a choice of days, and chose the first day in order to see the "program," and if it would be worth returning subsequently.

As it turned out, it was worth returning (somewhat), but I was not about to expect Z. and her husband to make a second trip. He was barely on board for the first trip, anyway. And besides, it illustrates some of the travel efficiencies of being a loner, as opposed to favoring the social aspects and its compromises (and, often-times, benefits).

On Friday, then, Z. text messaged me in mid-morning saying that as soon as N. woke up she would let me know when we would be leaving. I guess he got up around 11 am as my pick-up was appointed for 11:30.

Gassing the car up revealed a credit card problem of some sort. So we had to return to their residence to get another card. Then return to the gas station and make things right. We drove by way of Bilecik, where we picked up N.'s father, then on to Söğüt, finally arriving at around 2 or 2:30, I think. But, we hadn't missed anything.

There was your standard street market taking place. Lots of fabric wares it seemed to me, along with other domestic necessities and desirables. We had time for a lunch. And after lunch we were out to the town square just in time for a preview of things to come, merely a couple of folk dances by the local groups. One was by youngsters of about 10 to 12. 95% of them seemed none too happy about what they were doing. (There was one cutie, though, that I sort of fixed on. I guess her face reminded me of my first wife).

The other dance group consisted of four men, whose extended dance was quite vigorous, and even had elements of symbolic hostility and aggression, which I couldn't quite figure out. The apparent oldest of the group seemed to be the "most with it," and I later videoed him in concentration. This group, I believe from Söğüt, and therefore the hosts, so to speak, I saw perform the same dance perhaps up to six times over the three days. It was the most vigorous of dances, and I and I came to be in awe of their stamina.

On Friday another fixation I came to was that of a person whom I have to call "The Village Idiot." I don't mean that as a joke. I don't mean that pejoratively, or in any way derogatorily. It was an observation of curiosity.

There was a fellow wandering around within the restricted dancing area. He was left to do so. No one paid him any heed as long as he did not interfere with the proceedings. He was tall and extremely thin. His body was somewhat distorted and awkward. His face was, well, all I can say is, somewhat ugly. He had sunken eyes, bad and very distorted teeth. I couldn't tell whether his predominate expression was a smile or grimace. In short, he seemed to be a cocktail of shattered chromosomes. And, of course, mentally, he was no doubt in a world of his own. He did seem cleanly dressed. Nevertheless, he seemed to me a living medieval image.

After the dances there was not much else to see or do. We headed back to Bilecik.

Arriving in Bilecik I was asked if I wanted to go see someone's tomb. Not knowing who it was, I just said "OK," more out of politeness than anything else. Z. didn't know who it was either.

Well, when we got there it was in a rather nicely landscaped perch on the side of a canyon that N. had scrambled around as a youth. And, when Z. translated the historical notes to me, I recognized who the tomb was said to be dedicated to: Seyah Edebali.

Since, I have reviewed the story about this man.

   "The early Ottomans, struggling to plant their authority, were less concerned with the date of the founding of their state than with the vision that underpinned their right to rule. To them, empire began quite literally with a dream. One night, the first sultan Osman, was sleeping in the house of a holy man called [Seyah] Edebali when:

'He saw that a moon arose from the holy man's breast and came to sink in his own breast. A tree then sprouted from his navel and its shade compassed the world. Beneath the shade there were mountains, and streams flowed forth from the foot of each mountain. Some people drank from these running waters, others watered gardens, while yet others caused fountains to flow. When Osman awoke he told the story to the holy man, who said, 'Osman, my son, congratulations, for God has given the imperial office to you and your descendants and my daughter Malhun shall be your wife.'

"First communicated in this form in the later fifteenth century, a century and a half after Osman's death in about 1323, this dream became one of the most resilient founding myths of the empire, conjuring up a sense of temporal and divine authority and justifying the visible success of Osman and his descendants at the expense of their competitors for territory and power in the Balkans, Anatolia, and beyond. [This quote from Caroline Finkel's Osman's Dream, p.2; and she in turn quotes the dream passage from Rudi Lindner's Nomads and Ottomans in Medieval Anatolia.]

The yearly festivals in Söğüt are in honor of Osman's father, Ertuğrul.

Well, I thought it worth returning to Söğüt on Saturday, the next day. But of course I couldn't expect N. and Z. to drive me there again, so I would return as I had gone the first time: take the commercial bus between Bursa and Ankara, getting off at Bözüyük, then hitchhiking from there. And, even then, when getting up in the morning I had second thoughts. The third thought being: Just another day in Bursa? I overcame my own inertia and headed for the otogar (bus station) around 7 Saturday morning.

The road from Bözüyük heads steeply up hill pretty quickly. I put into action my hitchhiking theory of the best place to stand: First you have to walk to beyond the edge of the urban zone, so that the traffic is pretty clearly going on to the next place, in this town some distance uphill. Next, you can't stand on the advanced upward slope of a hill because drivers don't want to take their foot off the gas pedal, brake, and start going over again.

   You don't want to stand on a downward slope either because drivers don't want to break hard to stop going downhill.

   Therefore, the best place to stand to hitchhike (in hill country) is either just before the hill starts up, or just beyond the crest, both cases in which the driver's speed is somewhat neutralized, and the breaking effort is lessened.

Well, this meant that as before I had to walk a mile or more uphill to find a place that matched my theory. I photographed myself there, thinking, "Fifty years: What's changed? Here I am, an old man, doing the same thing I did at 16 and 26. Have I learned anything? Why don't I rent a car? I'm cheap, that's why." (I was also only 20 km from Söğüt, while Z.'s out of work husband probably still slept.)

I had only read a page or two in my Byzantine history book, when an old bus with a "Söğüt" sign in the window crowned the hill and stopped at my gesture. In Sögüt the driver brushed off my offer to pay.

As I walked again through the street market, some music sounded in the town square, and I found the real stuff about to begin.

The festival honoring Ertuğrul, is associated with the nomadic Yörük people. I haven't got it all parsed out yet. But, all over Turkey, in several large cities, there are Yörük associations. Sort of like the, say, the Sons of Norway, or something, in my home town. Among other activities they may undertake, they would seem to have a folk dancing group, and this was their occasion to perform.

There was an "Ottoman Band" which marched into the square and performed.

All people, but one, completely disregarded me, though, as probably the only foreigner for miles around, I clearly stood out. The one fellow who did seek me out for a chat was a young Belgian Turk. He was a physical education teacher in Ghent, here visiting family.

After the dancing program in the square I went up to the area where Ertuğrul's tomb (or symbolic tomb?) is, the performance stadium and Yörük associations tents were. There, throughout the afternoon, were informal dancings, and in some cases restricted reprises of the earlier performances in town. Except for the Söğüt guys I mentioned before, who must have gone through another three or four complete performances throughout the afternoon and evening.

At night there was to be a large concert in the stadium grounds. People flocked in. It didn't begin until 11:00 pm. Not a folk-type program, it was a solid middle class pop performance, first by a young woman, later by a fellow. Long before the fellow appeared, I drifted off.

Well, to confess the truth--and this is more to why I have to do things on the loner side of life--I had no place to spend the night. I had brought along my sleeping bag. There weren't many places to put it. All was dirt and lights.

Eventually, though, I drifted off into a sparsely wooded area near Ertuğrul's Tomb and found a level enough spot beneath a tree, and put out the bag for a couple of hours of sleep. I do sort of get disgusted at myself, at my age, for doing such things. But, there you are. In the end I'm still alive; it's all not really so bad.

It must have been around 2 am or so that I roused myself from that place, and went off looking for, well, something else.

On the other side of the stadium I came upon an open-air restaurant where the lights were on. Actually, I had eaten there the evening before. I decided I might as well go down there and read until the sunrise, then see about catching a ride back to Bözüyüt, and thence a bus back to Bursa.

I sat off to one corner by myself and started to read. About four tables away, in the pretty mostly deserted--but still functioning restaurant--there was a table of five guys. One approached me and invited me to join them.

As I took my place at the table I recognized one of them. He was the dentist I had met, and at whose house I had lunch on my first hitchhiking trip to Sögüt when he and his friend informed me about the festival. He spoke a little English, and explained me to his companions. I was offered a plate, theirs' in preparation. But I accepted a "kola" instead.

Well, they ate, said good-bye, and abruptly left, to return to their village half way between Sögüt and Bözüyük.

After a while I drifted over to an adjacent park. There, on grass, there were other bodies laying about. So I once again laid out my bag and got another couple of hours of sleep.

When I woke, the sky was lightening. I packed up and headed for the road out of town. There were police everywhere! There must have been hundreds of them. Most were wearing the sky blue polo-type shirts. They were the more casual ones. Still, they had baseball style hats, carried batons and handguns against their black pants. Another group I noticed were more seriously dressed, in black button-down shirts. In the back I noticed that they were from Istanbul. The guys in light blue shirts lining the road from the tomb to the exit intersection nevertheless had helmets near by. Across from the tomb I saw a couple of the riot-control tank-like vehicles.

When I got to the exit intersection I stood to one side to see if there would be more traffic to Bözüyüt or Bilecik. Well, there wasn't any at all. Two of the blue-shirted guys came up to see what I was all about. They looked my passport over. They drifted off.

A black-shirted guy came up. Young, seriously stern, but not unfriendly. He said the roads were closed; there would be no traffic for six hours. The Turkish President Abdullah Gül was coming for the day's ceremonies, and things were being set pretty tight. I said I might as well go on back in to the festivities.

Going back into the festival grounds with my backpack I was subjected to a complete pack search and electronic wand scan. But that was no big deal. Then, just to wait for things to get going.

The poobahs came in, the little ones first, having like me, to sit around waiting. Some folk dancing was performed for the poobahs in the stands. Then a very "Turkish" thing happened; about the only thing of note for me in the whole affair.

The Söğüt town folk dancing group was performing on the grass before the reviewing stand--the group with little enthusiasm, but a cut girl, as I have noted above. Right in the middle of their dance performance to music, suddenly the Army band appeared. Marching in to their own unceasing drum beat, they marched in right in front of the performing girls--between them and the reviewing stand--made an about face, and marched off to the near side, then stood by. A lesson in Turkish traffic: the bigger guy does what he wants.

Eventually the president came in--of course during another dance performance--and all the photographers crowded around in front to record the moment. Everyone ignored the dancers.

Then the dancing was over, (and maybe a poem)  and speeches began. Most of the crowd began filing out, leaving the bigger and lesser poobahs behind. Me too. That is, I left the scene, too. Along with many I went up to the tomb area where there was a shady garden with freshly laid grass sod mats. (I probably could have slept there the  night before. But if that had been discovered, it might not have gone down too well.) There, in the shade I had my pistachio nuts and water before heading out of town, now that most of the "six" hours had lapsed.

It turned out that all traffic had been halted about a mile out of town, where there, on this road to Bözüyük, was a parking lot and then a long line of large buses. I was almost to the end of the line of buses when four young fellows stopped for me.

They took me to Bözüyük, and there within half an hour I was on a bus back to Bursa. Sleeping. I was back around 2 pm. It was nice to have a shower and take a nap.
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Comments

geezergal
geezergal on

Now I know
I know why you don't write much to me as you write much on this site. Anyway it is very interesting. Love Sis

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